By T. D. Thornton
Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis have both racked up well-above-norm winning ratios of 29% since 2017, and no Thoroughbred horseman in this day and age can sustain such gaudy numbers without inviting allegations of cheating via illegal horse doping.
Monday, those suspicions exploded beyond the boundaries of our sport when four unsealed federal indictments implicated 27 individuals in a “widespread, corrupt scheme” dating to at least 2017 that centers on Navarro, Servis, and a vast network of co-conspirators who allegedly manufactured, mislabeled, rebranded, distributed and administered performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to racehorses all across America and in international races.
You can read TDN's lead news coverage of the criminal indictments here.
This article will give a deeper dive into the chronology behind the Federal Bureau of Investigation legwork that led to the charges. In particular, the most damning evidence against Navarro and Servis appears to come from a series of intercepted phone calls and text messages that occurred over the first seven months of 2019.
Two findings are underscored within the indictments: 1) That Navarro and Servis allegedly conspired together to procure and administer the PEDs and to warn each other of potential investigations by regulatory officials; 2) That the alleged doping involved very high-profile horses, such as the disqualified GI Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security (New Year's Day), the now-deceased, elite-level sprinter X Y Jet (Kantharos), and the blazingly fast, now-retired MGISW sprinter World of Trouble (Kantharos).
The indictments also yield another startling revelation: That some of the defendants–particularly Navarro–allegedly expressed a fear of getting caught by communicating their alleged wrongdoings via phone conversations and text messaging. Yet they allegedly persisted in making alleged doping plans using their mobile devices anyway.
Below is a chronology of the key 2019 conversations detailed in the indictments:
Jan. 25: Christopher Oakes, who allegedly “created and manufactured his own customized, misbranded and adulterated PED,” which was known as an undetectable “drench” that would “rapidly increase a racehorse's performance during a race,” allegedly discusses doping options with Navarro in a phone call, telling him, “Zero chance you get caught.”
Feb. 1: Nicholas Surick, a Standardbred trainer whose history includes a ban from the Meadowlands in 2018, allegedly details Navarro's previous history of New Jersey equine fatalities in a phone call with another alleged Navarro conspirator, Michael Tannuzzo. “You know how many [expletive] horses [Navarro] [expletive] killed and broke down that I made disappear?” Surick said. “You know how much trouble he could get in…if they found out…the six horses we killed?”
Feb. 9: With X Y Jet four days away from an important Gulfstream Park prep race that would determine whether or not the gelding next started in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, Navarro and Parx-based trainer Marcos Zulueta allegedly discuss Navarro's need for a particular customized analgesic PED, referred to as a “blocker” that Zulueta allegedly agrees to ship overnight.
Feb. 10: Navarro allegedly texts to Oakes “Do u have any of that new block the dr. makes [?]” Oakes allegedly agrees to procure and deliver it before the Gulfstream race.
Feb. 11: Navarro allegedly complains to Zulueta about a lackluster workout by X Y Jet.
Separately, according to the indictment, “Navarro and Oakes discussed a plan to secretly introduce a bottle of the 'blocker' into the stable where X Y Jet was being held prior to the Feb. 13 race. Oakes confirmed that he would smuggle that PED into the racetrack and meet Navarro inside.”
Also that day, Gregory Skelton, an alleged dealer of customized PEDs, allegedly ships an analgesic and “joint block” to Navarro.
Feb. 13: On race day for X Y Jet, according to the indictment, “Navarro instructed Oakes to visit X Y Jet to administer the PED, and to lie to racing officials if necessary to access the racehorse: 'Drive through. If anything, if they stop you, you are an owner and you come to Navarro's barn.'”
X Y Jet wins his allowance sprint by 7 3/4 lengths at 2-5 odds.
Feb. 18: According to the indictment, “Servis warned Navarro, via text message, of the presence of a racing official in the barn area where Servis and Navarro stored and administered PEDs to their respective racehorses.”
Later that same day, Navarro allegedly recounts the brush with the regulator to Tannuzzo: “He would have caught our asses [expletive] pumping and pumping and fuming every [expletive] horse [that ran] today.”
Mar. 5: In an intercepted phone call between Servis and Navarro, the two trainers allegedly coordinate the procurement and administration of SGF-1000, a customized PED intended to promote tissue repair and increase a racehorse's stamina and endurance beyond its natural capability.
“I've been using it on everything, almost,” Servis allegedly says.
Navarro allegedly replies that he's “got more than 12 horses on” that drug, but he ends the call by adding, “Jay, we'll sit down and talk about this shit. I don't want to talk about this shit on the phone, OK?”
Apr. 3: Four days after winning the Golden Shaheen in Dubai, an intercepted call between Navarro and Zulueta details how Navarro allegedly doped X Y Jet in the weeks leading up to, and even on the day of, the race: “I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.”
Apr 5: A Navarro text sent to veterinarian Seth Fishman allegedly requests “1,000 pills ASAP.”
Also that day, either Seth Fishman or Jordan Fishman (the indictment does not specify which; both are defendants) allegedly has a phone call with a prospective PED-purchasing customer who wants to know if the administration of the products in question would be considered “doping.”
One of the Fishmans allegedly sets the unnamed customer straight: “Any time that you give something to a horse, that's doping. Whether or not they can test for it is another story….Don't kid yourself: If you're giving something to a horse to make it [perform] better, and you're not supposed to do that…that's doping.”
May 8: Four days after Maximum Security won the Derby but got disqualified for interference, Servis allegedly has a conversation with his longtime assistant, Henry Argueta, to discuss “the concealment from racing officials of a PED that they intended to administer to the racehorse World of Trouble,” who was scheduled to ship to New York for the GI Jaipur Invitational S. on the GI Belmont S. undercard.
Allegedly, they conspired to conceal the PED within other containers when shipping World of Trouble, who ended up winning that stakes as the 2-5 favorite. It would be the final race of the horse's career.
May 15: Tannuzzo allegedly arranges to receive a shipment of “blood builder” PEDs at Navarro's New Jersey residence on the trainer's behalf.
May 29: In a conference call between Navarro and “operators of a racing stable in California” the horse Nanoosh (Paynter) is discussed, four days after he ran next-to-last in the GIII Salvatore Mile S. (in which Servis trainees ran one-two).
One of the irate stable operators allegedly questions whether Navarro was “giving [the stable's horses] all the shit,” then asks, “Is this horse jacked out? Is he on [expletive] pills or are we just [expletive]….” Navarro is alleged to have replied, “Everything. He gets everything.” The stable operator cuts short the discussion, saying, “You don't have to tell me on the phone,” according to the indictment. The owners of Nanoosh for that race were Rockingham Ranch, Zayat Stables LLC, and David L. Bernsen.
June 5: Eleven days before he runs second in the Pegasus S. at Monmouth Park, Maximum Security gets subjected to PED testing. This is allegedly a short time after the colt received a shot of SGF-1000. The indictment alleges that following the test, Servis reached out to co-defendant Kristian Rhein, a veterinarian who maintains a practice at Belmont Park, out of concerns the colt might test positive. “They don't even have a test for it in America,” Rhein allegedly tells Servis, adding that the presence of SGF-1000 could, however, return a false positive for “Dex.” The indictment states that later that same day, Servis received a promise from another veterinarian who agreed to falsify records to make it appear the horse was treated with “Dex” and not the illegal SGF-1000.
July 10: Servis and Argueta, according to the indictment, allegedly “discussed the illegality, and planned the administration, of clenbuterol, a particular prescription drug that may be used as a PED, which [defendant and veterinarian Alexander Chan] administered to Servis's racehorses without a valid prescription.”
July 11: According to the indictment, Chan allegedly administers SGF-1000 to multiple racehorses, then states in a call to Rhein that he has run out of the product because he did “like eight” horses for Servis and six at another (undisclosed) barn.
July 16: Rhein and Michael Kegley Jr., the director of sales for a Kentucky company called Medivet Equine, allegedly discuss in a phone call how Servis and his associates are “buying literally as much” SGF-1000 as Rhein has sourced from Kegley Jr.'s firm.
The indictment states that “Rhein bragged that he was selling 'assloads' of SGF-1000.
On that call, Kegley Jr., and Rhein further discussed regulatory scrutiny of SGF-1000 and the benefits of re-labeling the packaging for SGF-1000 in order to avoid inquiries.”
Kegley Jr. allegedly suggests that “We can even put on the box, you know, 'dietary supplement for equine.' That way it's not, no one even has to question if it's FDA approved or not–it's strictly a supplement.”